Ryan Crouser and local superstar Sandra Perkovic will serve as the headline acts for the 70th edition of the Hanzekovic Memorial in the Croatian capital Zagreb, the penultimate World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting of 2020, on Monday and Tuesday (15).
Crouser will help kick off the action with the Ivan Ivancic Memorial, the associated men's shot put competition held in Zagreb’s City Fountains Park near the city centre on Monday evening where he'll take on world champion Joe Kovacs for the just the second time since their epic showdown at last year’s World Championships.
In Doha, Kovacs threw 22.91m to defeat Crouser by a lone centimetre in what was history's finest shot put competition. Crouser, who set the Zagreb meeting record of 22.28m in 2016, has been on a tear this season, improving his personal best to 22.91m and throwing 22.56m, 22.72m, 22.70m and 22.43m to win his last four competitions.
In fact, Crouser has won each of his eight competitions since that Doha final, including the Millrose Games in New York in February where Crouser beat Kovacs, 22.19m to 21.34m. Conversely, Zagreb will be the first competition since for Kovacs.
“I am really excited before tomorrow’s competition," Crouser said, “because this is one of my favourite venues and I expect to throw far. How far? I won’t think about throwing over 22 metres with all six attempts. I will be satisfied if one of them will be over 23 metres.”
Kovacs ambitions aren't quite as high.
“Ryan is in great form this year and I’m sure that he can throw over 23 metres," Kovacs said. "This was usually my last meeting of the season and now it’s the first one. I didn’t even believe that you would be able to organise this meeting and I am really glad that you have managed to organise it. So I would be very happy if I could repeat my result from last year (21.20m).”
The field also includes Italy's Leonardo Fabbri, who has improved to 21.99m this year, and another US athlete, Nick Ponzio, who extended his career best to 21.72m in 2020.
Perkovic back in action
Croatia’s current pandemic restrictions on public gatherings will prohibit spectators to gather at the shot put competition, but 700 will be allowed to watch the main programme on Tuesday evening at the Sportpark Mladost, where Perkovic, similarly to Kovacs, will compete for the fist time since 7 March when she threw 65.93m at Croatia's Winter Throwing Championships, still the second farthest throw in the world this year.
She'll face Melina Robert-Michon of France, whose best throw of the season, 64.14m, came back in February.
On the men's side, world champion Daniel Stahl will be gunning to return to winning ways after his unbeaten streak was halted at 15 in Berlin on Sunday by the 2017 world champion Andrius Gudzius. The Lithuanian threw 66.72m, nearly a metre better than Stahl, who reached 65.89m.
The field also includes Stahl’s compatriot Simon Pettersson, who's improved to 67.72m this season.
Named to honour Croatia's inter-war hurdles star Boris Hanzekovic, the meeting's signature event is the men's 110m hurdles. Gunning for the honour to lift the massive trophy this year is Wilhem Belocian of France, the fastest of the entrants in 2020 courtesy of a 13.18 career best in the Monaco stop of the Wanda Diamond League on 14 August, and 2019 Pan-American Games silver medallist Freddie Crittenden, who has clocked 13.30 this season.
The women's field includes Cindi Ofili of Great Britain and Payton Chadwick of the US, who have clocked 12.88 and 12.97 respectively this season.
Wightman, Kramer and Tuka 800m rematch
Organisers have also assembled some solid fields in the middle distances for athletes looking to round out their pandemic-shortened 2020 seasons with fast times.
In the men's 800m, Jake Wightman, Andreas Kramer and Amel Tuka return to action after strong performances in Ostrava last week where winner Wightman and runner-up Kramer improved their lifetime bests to 1:44.18 and 1:44.47, respectively. At 1:44.51 Tuka wasn't far behind.
Australians Stewart McSweyn and Matthew Ramsden head the field in the 1500m, with 3:31.48 and 3:35.23 season's best to their credit, both career bests as well. Their compatriot Ryan Gregson has also dipped under 3:35 and could also be a factor.
Elsewhere on the infield, Swede Khaddi Sagnia, Jazmin Sawyers of Great Britain and Romania's Alina Rotaru will butt heads in the women's long jump, bringing season's bests of 6.83m, 6.69m and 6.67m to Zagreb. In the high jump, Yuliya Levchenko, one of the season's two two-metre jumpers, will take rising Australian star Nicole McDermott, who's improved to 1.98m this year.
And in the sprints, Michael Rodgers of the US and Arthur Cisse of Ivory Coast will clash in the 100m. Cisse will arrive after a commanding 10.10 victory in Berlin.
Bob Ramsak for World Athletics